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Schooled in Disaster Work

by Linda D. Johnson

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Brian Irvine, an EMT and a grad student at Ohio Christian, treats a young girl.
Brian Irvine, an EMT and a grad student at Ohio Christian, treats a young girl.

Classes had just begun in January at Ohio Christian University in a brand-new Disaster Management & Relief B.A. program. On the 12th, the Haiti earthquake hit.

'Within a very short time, we had a team of about a half dozen doctors and nurses ready to go,' says Thad Hicks, director of the new Christ-centered program at the university.

'We set up a small clinic. We were doing everything, including amputations. We treated 1,500-2,000 people in around 10 days at Petit Gove [a city on the coast hard-hit by the quake].'

The team delivered several babies and dealt with all sorts of medical emergencies, including car crashes.

'It was nonstop,' Thad says. 'We were seeing bodies just lying in the middle of the road. There was so much devastation.'

Thad says that typically, media accounts of disasters are overblown, but that was not so here.

'This time, the coverage was pretty much dead on.'

Thad, a Salvation Army soldier (member) in Springfield, Ohio, and a former police officer, holds a master's degree and is currently working on a Ph.D. at Asbury Theological Seminary. (Priority!, Summer 2008) The administration from Ohio Christian University contacted Thad to ask if he would be willing to direct the new disaster management program there.

Since the quake, Thad has sent two more teams of disaster management students to Haiti, in May and September of 2010. The first team helped distribute 2,000 tarps for tents and collecting water. The students learned a lot about the rigors of disaster work as they spent most of their time in the back of a truck.

'It was also to give students a taste of what it's like in the field and to interact with people and take their stories back,' says Thad.

Conditions in Haiti weren't much better in May than they were just after the quake, but the team had also brought with them money that had been donated for disaster relief, and they were able to put it in the hands of Haitian leaders to put it to use.

'They were all awestruck!' says Thad.

The group that went in September had another task. After hiking into the mountains, they started work on building a hard-walled clinic in a remote area. They used local people to help. 'We want to teach the people how to build these things themselves,' says Thad. To date, the program has also shipped 1,500 pounds of medical supplies to Haiti, and more teams are scheduled to go in January and March 2011. It's all part of being schooled in disaster work that emphasizes Christlike service.

For more information on the Disaster Management & Relief B.A. program at Ohio Christian University, contact Thad Hicks at thicks@ohiochristian.edu or call 740-477-7710.